Precedents

February 24, 1803


After his defeat by Thomas Jefferson in 1800, President John Adams used his last days in office to secure government posts for fellow Federalists. Among the “midnight judges” Adams appointed was William Marbury, who was named one of 42 justices of the peace for the newly designated Dis­trict of Columbia.

Though signed and sealed, Marbury’s commission was never delivered, as required, by Secretary of State John Marshall. For two years Marbury begged, cajoled and finally sued for the commission. By the time he filed for a writ of mandamus at the U.S. Su­preme Court, Marshall was chief justice.

Instead of protecting a fellow Federalist, Marshall used the case to assert the court’s power of judicial review, ruling that while Marbury was entitled to the commission, the provision authorizing the mandamus remedy was unconstitutional.

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